Strife in for safe on CBS' fall schedule

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The new Nina Tassler embraces controversy and revels in it.

That was the message from the CBS Entertainment president Wednesday as the network, known for its safe fare, is gearing up for the growing controversy around upcoming series "Swingtown" and "Kid Nation."

Overall, the departures of "Criminal Minds" star Mandy Patinkin and "NCIS" creator Don Bellisario and the return of the canceled drama "Jericho" dominated CBS' executive session at the Television Critics Assn.'s summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

Tassler was barraged with questions about the circumstances surrounding Patinkin's exit from "Minds" but declined to provide details beyond saying it was "a personal issue."

On Monday, Patinkin's request to be released from the successful two-year-old show was granted for what the actor's statement said were "creative differences."

A question about the discrepancy between his and Tassler's assessments of the motives for the departure produced the most memorable quote of the day.

"I think 'creative differences' is a euphemism for 'personal issues,' " Tassler said with a wink, drawing laughs from the audiences.

She declined to say if Patinkin has been declared a persona non grata at CBS following his exits from two network series, "Minds" and "Chicago Hope." He left the latter show early in its second season after winning an Emmy for his leading role.

On Bellisario's departure from the hit "NCIS," which reportedly was prompted by friction between him and series star Mark Harmon, Tassler said the network tried to "mediate" but that ultimately "it was the natural evolution of a show that you groom your writers on your staff to take over the mantle so you can move on to develop other shows.

"It's time that Don developed another show for us," she added.

Referring to the massive fan campaign to save "Jericho," which had thousands of viewers sending e-mails and nuts to CBS executives, Tassler shared anecdotes about her physician pulling out a bag of peanuts from his pocket during her exam and a neighborhood camera-store clerk recognizing her name on the credit card as someone he had e-mailed as part of the campaign.

CBS picked up the show last month for a seven-episode midseason run.

"We think seven episodes gives us a chance to bring viewers back, really do big, heightened, dramatic stakes, and we'll see," Tassler said. "It was enough so we could see if the audience was there and if they're going to come back to the show."

Tassler defended its kid society reality series "Kid Nation" from accusations that its filming in New Mexico might have violated local child labor laws.

"The show absolutely did not violate any laws in New Mexico," she said.

CBS' unconventional slate of new series, including the murder-mystery musical "Viva Laughlin" and the couple-swapping-themed "Swingtown," also drew attention.

"Each of the series that we've got on the schedule offers something a little bit different. ... But to be clear, the choices really represent an evolution, not a revolution," Tassler said. "And at the core of every one of these shows, they have very strong and relatable narrative, great storytelling, relatable characters."

Tassler dismissed a remark that CBS should have had a succession plan for "The Price Is Right" before host Bob Barker announced his retirement in the fall, saying that the network had been working on finding a new host for some time.

"Those are the biggest shoes in Hollywood to fill," she said. "It's a really, really daunting task."

She confirmed that CBS continues to be in talks with Drew Carey for the host job on "Price" but declined comment on other candidates in contention.

Other news from CBS' executive session:

  CBS will roll out the majority of its fall schedule during premiere week, Sept. 24-30.

"Kid Nation" and veteran "Survivor" (with its China edition) will get an early start the previous week, debuting Sept. 19 and 20, respectively. Premiering the night before the official start of the season will be CBS' returning Sunday series "60 Minutes," "Cold Case" and "Shark." Their companion on the night, freshman "Viva Laughlin," will join them Oct. 21 after a preview Oct. 18 following "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." The premiere of "Laughlin" is timed to coincide with a two-week break from pro football overruns on Sunday.

  "Numbers" executive producer Tony Scott is set to direct the third-season premiere of the show and will give it a new look.

  "CSI: NY" will do an episode set in the virtual world of Second Life.

  The Jerry Bruckheimer TV-produced "CSI" and "Without a Trace," which are getting reunited on Thursday night next season, will do their first crossover, with stars William Petersen and Anthony LaPaglia appearing on each other's shows.

Meanwhile, Patinkin's departure has become a recurring theme during TCA sessions and even coined a new phrase.

"We got 'Mandy Patinkined' -- the rug was pulled out from underneath us," "Cane" exec producer Jonathan Prince said, referring to the cancellation of his NBC drama "American Dreams."
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